Jamie was just doing his job. Creating a marketing plan, collaborating with a few members of the team, and moving forward with the project. Aryn didn’t see it that way. She felt he’d been dismissive and even condescending in their conversations. Every interaction left her bristling with anger. Already feeling stretched thin one afternoon, Aryn sees Jamie is reaching out. She takes a deep breath before answering the phone. Jamie launches into discussion about a new initiative that excites him. Aryn cuts him off, saying “I don’t have time for this right now.” Jamie jokingly says, “Oh, your coffee hasn’t settled in yet?” But his comment falls flat. Aryn shoots back in anger – “Not everything revolves around you, Jamie. Some of us have real work to do.”
Conversations and reactions, like the one above, have always found a way into our lives. They cause stress and disruption, and when left unresolved, can give way to an increasingly fractured relationship. Given our current status as workers in an on-going COVID environment, where we are often operating remotely in part or in full, the opportunities to be baited and feel berated are all the more quick to occur.
How do you move forward from these moments?
How do you avoid being dragged into ever more damaging conflict?
While it isn’t easy when passions are running high, it is simpler and more manageable than you might think. Following are three key reminders to help you start to move forward, build back healthy dialogue, and perhaps even repair the damage that caused the baiting behavior in the first place.
#1 – Slow Down. Most people are surprised to find themselves in an argument – and react accordingly by sparring back. This includes the instigator. They may be irritable and behaving inappropriately while still unaware of how others are experiencing their behavior. Matching their unpleasant demeanor will only escalate matters and lead to greater conflict and tension.
#2 – Gain Perspective. Whether in the moment or over the course of the next few hours, try to consider where the other person is coming from. What is impacting them? Are they going through something (personally or otherwise) that’s causing inflated stress? Be sure to explore your own flaws, responsibilities, or role in the situation. And even if the issue is more about them than about you, do not let that further bait you or give you cause to add to the conflict. Instead, shift your energy so that you can open the dialogue and work toward solutions.
#3 – Ask a Question. Rather than engaging in the battle that you believe is being waged, or going on the offense yourself, disarm the other person with an associated question. Being sensitive to their anger or frustration and keeping your tone even, seek to find out what has prompted their behavior. You might ask if they are under extreme stress, if you have caused them difficulty, or simply if they want to talk about what is upsetting them. When your own tone is concerned and engaging, rather than provocative, you help them to identify the problem or to recognize their own behavior.
By this point, most would-be arguments have moved to a more honest and productive place. Your next step will now depend on the content of the discussion that ensued. Perhaps you will offer to help, offer to change, negotiate a plan, or simply give the other person space, time, or encouragement. Having given space to listen, rather than react, you’ve helped to promote positive change. You’ve turned an argument into a productive conversation.